Sunday, 1 April 2012

Autism Awareness

World Autism Awareness Day is the 2nd April and many of us who have connections to autistic family, friends and professionals all run around promoting it and using it as our mantle for spreading the word.

I’m okay with this, but not so sure about the effectiveness. Awareness is one thing, but what we really want is for people who are perhaps not sure about autism to go and investigate a little bit more about it. Visit the NAS website, read a book, watch a film, search on youtube if you must.

Another point to consider is that people are probably far more aware of autistic disorders now than they ever have been, but perhaps they do not realise it.

Apart from the high profile autism stories about discredited vaccination researchers and famous computer hackers. That’s Andrew Wakefield and Gary Mackinnon for those completely out of the loop, there are countless examples of autistic behaviour being used in the film and television communities.

Some of Lisa Simpson’s odd and awkward social behaviour is believed to be suggestive of high functioning autism. Dr House’s unemotional, self-centred nature and logical arrogance reflects the individualised perspective, where it really doesn’t matter to him that other people could take offence or interpret situations in a different way from him. The young boy in the new series Touch, who literally cannot be touched without being overloaded demonstrates hypersensitivity issues along with his repetitive focus and intense fixation on patterns and in this case numbers. The Middle character Brick’s narrow interests, obsession and compulsion to echo under his breath. Hoffman’s, excellent portrayal of a savant autistic in Rainman speaks for itself. The film Adam is more obviously about the difficulties someone with aspergers syndrome can have forming relationships. Temperance Brennan (Bones) again displays highly specialised and detailed intelligence with very literal, factual, interpretation and lack of ‘normal’ social understanding.

Some of these quirky characters (with the exception of Babbit / Adam) only scrape the surface of autistic traits or offer a hint they may be affected. They rather give a false impression that this condition is somehow cooler than it really is and suggest some magical high intelligence quotient accompanies everyone on the spectrum, which it does not. They don’t represent the full difficulties people with this condition have, you don’t see them having tantrums, meltdowns or being unable to function when everything overwhelms them.

If you want to understand the condition from a true autistic perspective, I would suggest you look at the offerings from the very famous Temple Grandin or read the Luke Jackson penned “Freaks, Geeks and Aspergers Syndrome”. Finally, if you are in the UK and ever have the opportunity to hear Ros Blackburn talk, grab it with both hands or go research her bio.


  1. Temple Grandin's story is one of my favourites. Good points. It's true that there is not enough range of story telling but perhaps that will get better in the future?
    Thanks for sharing